The recent Encephalitis outbreak in Bihar has again brought the state to the center of discussion. Over the past few weeks, more than 100 children have lost their lives due to Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES). Under fire is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has been facing the heat for poor health infrastructure in the state and more importantly the failure of the state government to take proactive steps to control the outbreak, despite a historical record of similar outbreaks in the past. The Encephalitis outbreak has essentially brought to light the crippling conditions of the state’s health infrastructure and government’s inactivity with respect to the outbreak. Nitish Kumar’s image as a ‘good administrator’ built over time with the help of friendly media also stands exposed as children lose their lives to blatant negligence of the state government.
For almost a week, the count of children losing their lives to Encephalitis has been on a steady rise. While Indians enraged on Nitish Kumar’s ineffectiveness, Bihar CM conveniently ignored the situation for several days and pretended everything was okay. It was only after several days of the outbreak, Nitish Kumar was pressurized to visit the patients and take stock of the situation. As expected, Nitish Kumar’s visit to the Hospital met with the uproar of the families of the affected children, who raised slogans against Nitish Kumar and questioned his tall claims of healthcare services in the state. Recently, Bihar Health minister, Mangal Panday was also caught on camera asking cricket score while serious discussions over the E outbreak were underway. In Muzaffarpur district alone, the disease has left around 108 children dead, with about 400 more admitted in Hospitals for treatment. Neighboring districts like East Champaran, Samastipur, Vaishali have also been affected by the outbreak.
#WATCH Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey asks for latest cricket score during State Health Department meeting over Muzaffarpur Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) deaths. (16.6.19) pic.twitter.com/EVenx5CB6G
— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2019
These recent developments in Bihar have again raised serious questions on the leadership of Nitish Kumar. Being the CM of the state for more than 15 years certainly brings Nitish Kumar to the center of discussions over existing health facilities in the state. Several media reports have also exposed the poor conditions of government hospitals in Bihar, more specifically in Muzaffarpur where the Hospital was not only under-equipped but also showed years of perpetual mismanagement. On Sunday, TV reports said that hospitals are running out of beds in Muzaffarpur due to rising cases of encephalitis. The reports also suggested that the medical facilities at the state-run hospitals are not satisfactory and children are not given medicines on time, resulting in the high number of casualties. Even doctors have indicated towards these limitations. These reports have surely put a significant dent on Nitish Kumar’s image of ‘Shusashan babu’ which has been nurtured over years on fragile grounds.
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) June 19, 2019
Nitish Kumar’s negligence on this issue has been distressing. Over the past few years, the state has witnessed similar E outbreaks. However, no substantial action was taken for prevention or cure of the disease. In 2012, the government had announce to set up a special research facility in Muzaffarpur to study the causes behind children getting affected by this syndrome. Children form region around Muzaffarpur and Eastern Uttar Pradesh are affected almost every year from this problem. However, despite the high number of deaths reported every year, the exact reason remains a mystery. Seven years and hundreds of deaths later, the government still does not have a clear answer. Unofficial reports from the region peg the deaths due to Encephalitis at much higher level to what is being represented in official data. According to unofficial reports the disease wreaked havoc in the region in 2012, claiming 424 lives. In 2013, the toll stood at 222. In 2014, 379 encephalitis-related deaths were reported in the region. In 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the toll was 90, 103, 54 and 33, respectively.
Many observers have indicated that the disease might also be related to consumption of litchi. According to estimates around 3 lakh metric tonne of litchi is grown in the region every year. It is believed that eating litchi on an empty stomach causes a sharp decline in the glucose levels in the body, thus affecting the life support system in a minor’s body. However, no clear scientific observation exists to point out the exact reason behind this yearly outbreak.
Even after deaths of thousands of Children in Bihar over the past few years, Nitish Kumar is still unfazed and has put up another campaign to pass the buck to the central government. Only recently, Nitish Kumar has been back with his demand for special status for Bihar. Nitish Kumar’s actions, in this case, are also surely in line with his political life which has been loaded with similar tactics and irresponsibility. Bihar CM, for long, has been under fire for compromising with governance for political expediency. Be it Nitish Kumar’s history with the RJ(D), where he snubbed Lalu led RJ(D) after reaping political benefits on their expense in the assembly elections, within the NDA too Nitish Kumar’s conduct now has been giving out mixed signals. However, given the volatile commitment history of Nitish Kumar, his apathy with regard to this outbreak is surely not surprising and just a reflection of what kind of person he is.